The European notion that the Americas had an overflow of untapped treasures and new world goods drove the development of labor in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The new world products were inclusive of commodities that had their origin from the Americas as the only source. These goods that were only found in the Americas were the cause of movements across the Atlantic Ocean by people from Eurasia and Africa. These new world products included maize, potatoes, cinchona tree (malaria therapy), tobacco, cacao, peanuts, sunflower, animals, slaves, and of course diseases such as Syphilis. The motive to acquire these products led to the development of the Columbia exchange that apart from itself requiring much labor was a means of forcefully and cheaply acquiring much-needed human labor from other accessible parts of the world like Africa. The resource-angry Europeans were short of labor to carry on with their quest for amassing the new world goods and therefore granted the American natives the right to own both domestic and imported energy; a right popularly known those days as encomiendas. Bumpy rewards were in store for individuals who enabled high performances through their laborers.
What Is the Columbian Exchange of New World Goods and Labor?
Of all the goods exchanged between the Americas and the other parts of the world, sugar was the most valuable, akin to the current world’s oil value. European conflicts arose in the struggle to establish and control sugar plantations in America’s best sugar plantation regions. Tobacco also stood out to have great importance in this trade in the new world, where it was rather smoked compared to the Americans’ use for medicinal and ritualistic purposes. Also of great value in the new world was cacao that was used to produce chocolate. Chocolate drinks known as xocolati was ceremonial beverage among the Mesoamerican Indians and was used during marriages. This use, however, did not sink well with the Spaniards who viewed it as vile and named it the devil's vomit Apart from the crops, animals were also traded as new world goods. For instance, Christopher Columbus brought cows, pigs, horses, and chickens to the Caribbean Islands on his second voyage. The new world animals also included snakes and sloths that appeared bizarre to the Europeans. (Bresnahan& Gordon, 1997)
Columbian Exchange of Infections
Microbes were also unconsciously exchanged since they were small insignificant creatures with devastating effects on humans. Examples of infections that were acquired from the bacteria included smallpox, measles, and chickenpox. There was also the exchange of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like syphilis amongst the traders.
Columbian Exchange: Catholicism
The labor offered under this kind of relationship was rather full of slavery practice and was forceful to the natives. This exploitation could be seen in the bargaining tool of the conquest rulers who exposed the laborers to Catholicism instead. Being in such an exploitative kind of a relationship the American natives opted to exploit their rights and resist the colonialist's rule and roles in the new world trade. Instead, they were inclined to their old beliefs and systems instead of the early-adopting Catholicism. Others were however adapted to portions of the new belief that had some sense and appeal in them.
What Impact Did the Columbian Exchange Have on Labor Organizations?
The import of forced labor from other parts of the world in the context of the Columbian exchange came with violence especially brutality from the Spanish rulers. One Dominican friar named Las Casas had previously owned Indian slaves in the Americas. After witnessing the brutality that the encomenderos implicated on the natives he gave it up and sharply differed with other recipients of the encomiendas. Later in 1515, he started advocating for the kind regard and handling of the native laborers and slaves that led to the establishment of New Laws that were aimed at ending slavery and the encomiendas system. (Brands, Breen, Williams, & Gross, 2016.)
Although mostly discussed, Indians were not the only forced labor victims in the Americas. Africans also were victims of forced labor to the European rulers and were utilized in the production of tobacco, sugar, and other cash crops for sale in the European markets. To justify the integration of Africans into enslavement, the Europeans viewed them as non-Christians and as a consequence, were completely and brutally denied control of their lives. Any attempt of resistance to forced labor and slavery was met with physical, mental, and sexual violence from the Europeans; as a method to assert their status as master and superior.
More involved in the trade for slave laborers across the Atlantic into the Americas were the Portuguese. The Portuguese had slaveholder pens on the west coast of Africa like Ghana’s Elmina Castle, after which the captured slaves were sold to the Spanish, English, and Dutch colonial inhabitants in the Americas to assist in the production of sugar for export. In the sugarcane plantation farms, the laborers could manually harvest and process large masses of sugarcane. The labor-intensive methods involved in the production of sugar and the recycling of their byproducts into molasses were very dangerous to the unprotected manual laborers. According to Las Casas, by the year 1550, there were about fifty thousand enslaved workers in the Hispaniola owners section of the Americas. He recounts that this was the largest tragedy yet in the New Atlantic World. ("New Worlds in the Americas: Labor, Commerce, and the Columbian Exchange | US History I (OS Collection)", 2016)
Effects of Labor Trade on the Indigenous Relations
The transactions between the new world and the old world had various effects on the existing indigenous relationships. Previously before these developments there existed a deep connection to the indigenous people and their geographical territories, cultural and spiritual beliefs, and aesthetical connections. Encroachment of colonial rulers and the Europeans into the Americas for New world goods could have caused an imbalance in the much-treasured coexistence of the American inhabitants.
Spiritually, the Europeans forcefully introduced to the Americas the new practice of Catholicism against their wish to practice their belief. This new idea is viewed to have diluted the local spiritual relationships as other natives resorted to either fully adopting the new faith or adopting the practices of the new religion that suited them most.
Negative Effect of Labor Trade On the Indigenous People
The crops and foods that were initially viewed by the local natives as of aesthetic and therapeutic value were later abused and new uses adopted due to these interactions. An example is the use of tobacco that was initially for medicinal purposes until the Europeans made a health-deteriorating smoking habit out of it.
The import and use of forceful labor and slavery in the farms and crops plantations were against the cultural belief of the natives. This engagement and the encomiendas system introduced a concept of brutality, slavery, violence, and greed for resources against the unifying indigenous culture in the Americas. The regard for human rights and values was also corroded due to the occurrence of such incidences within the transaction zones. Sacred beliefs by the natives were also mutilated by the engagement of the colonial traders in sexual and psychological violence.
The export of the locally produced crops and animals also led to the loss of the aesthetic value that comes with ownership and is viewed as a value of wealth.
The import and export of labor from within the exchange led to the exchange of previously non-existent infections and diseases in both camps. The acquisition of measles, chickenpox, and smallpox is a direct consequence of the purchase of slaves used as laborers from various parts of the world.
Positive Effect of Labor Trade On the Indigenous People
The export and import activities were also of a positive effect on the indigenous people. For instance, the Americas learned better ways of land use and discovered new and essential products from the old world. The new world goods were also further explored to identify better and more appropriate uses for the American inhabitants.
It is evident that in the first instance, the effects associated with the trade for new world goods and labor were grave and unbearable to the indigenous people. However, the effects waned over time and a multicultural, advanced, and harmonious society developed within the Americas in the long run. The world also became more open to commodities and this marked the beginning of a long-standing trade revolution that has generally benefited the world’s economy.
Brands, H., Breen, T., Williams, R., & Gross, A. American Stories.
New Worlds in the Americas: Labor, Commerce, and the Columbian Exchange | US History I (OS Collection). (2016). Courses.lumenlearning.com. Retrieved 22 October 2016, from https://courses.lumenlearning.com/ushistory1os2xmaster/chapter/new-worlds-in-the-americas-labor-commerce-and-the-columbian-exchange/Bresnahan, T. & Gordon, R. (1997).The economics of new goods. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
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